Leading up to an NFL draft, there are a lot of hackneyed conversations that will drive a fan absolutely crazy. It seems that some fans want to rely on simplistic rules to simplify the NFL draft for themselves. It’s a coping mechanism to help deal with the fact that most fans have do not possess nearly enough information to truly decide what their team needs or how they should build for the future. It’s not an indictment of fans to not know, but it is an indictment for fans who pretend like they do.
Know what, exactly? It’s infuriating this time of year, but how many fans do you come across — at the bar, calling sports talk radio or on Twitter — who think of themselves as the only one qualified to run the war room of their favorite football team? Imagine every nugget of their “wisdom” being delivered with a confident, smug smile that says, “I just know I’m right.” Instead of looking at each team like a complex system that needs lots of different pieces, we get a lot of vague, simplistic misconceptions. And with that, here are my least favorite draft clichés.
“He’s just a winner.” “He’s got all the intangibles.” “HIGH MOTOR!” I decided to group all of these things together. These are important factors when looking at players in the draft, but in isolation, they’re mostly ignorant statements that people use when they don’t have anything of substance to say about a player.
Most recently, the “winner” tag is being applied to A.J. McCarron because he won so much at Alabama under Nick Saban and a cast of highly recruited teammates. Previously in Cleveland this was applied to one Colt McCoy who wasn’t good enough to be drafted in the first round but happened to win a lot in college at Texas.1 While winning in college is a factor, it’s far from a catch-all of a reason to draft someone, even late.
The same thing with “intangibles” and a “high motor.” You want these things to be positive factors in drafting, but it seems like there are a few too many NFL fans who think that football is just a real-life playing out of the movie Rudy and the better you can feel about the Bob Costasian storyline, the better the draft pick will be.
“The game is won and lost in the trenches so just draft more offensive/defensive linemen!” This one is especially obnoxious in Cleveland right now. The Browns don’t have a perfect offensive line by any means, but there’s little doubt that both the offensive and defensive lines are strengths. They had two Pro Bowl players on the offensive line this past season in Alex Mack and Joe Thomas. In addition, Thomas has perennially been considered one of the absolute best left tackles in the game. How has this translated into wins?2
I’m not looking to place blame on Joe Thomas or say that you don’t want to have the best left tackle in the NFL. I’m simply saying that building from the line of scrimmage out is a goofy rule that isn’t really a rule. No doubt, you need good players on the defensive and offensive lines. This idea that you can do that and somehow win in 2014 likely means you have an anachronistic view of professional football. It means you think it’s a winning NFL strategy to get three yards per carry while also simply stopping the run and grinding your way to a ten win season.
I’m trying to think if I broke this rule myself when I proposed the Browns draft Matt Kalil.
“Defense wins championships!” Hey, you remember the Ravens? They won a championship with game manager Trent Dilfer and a dominant defense. That’s what our team should do!
The Baltimore Ravens won that Super Bowl in 2001 against the New York Giants featuring Kerry Collins as their quarterback. The Ravens defense was dominant to be sure, but that team is such a rare exception that they shouldn’t be used as an example. Since that game on January 28, 2001, there are far more teams that have won Super Bowls with really great quarterbacks. Sure, some of those teams had great defenses too, but there aren’t a lot of Dilfer-type winners. Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Joe Flacco and Russell Wilson are all Super Bowl winners. There’s one other Dilfer-esque winner in there as Brad Johnson defeated Rich Gannon’s Raiders to win a Tampa Bay Bucs Super Bowl in 2003.
But what are we talking about here? Are we really proponents of forgoing an opportunity to get a franchise-altering talent at quarterback in the name of trying to build a twice-in-a-generation defense?
Team building is a complex thing and having an unbalanced view of the task and suggesting that this is an obvious way to build a Super Bowl team is silly. If it was that easy, nobody would ever draft offense in the first round at all.
“Don’t draft a quarterback high because Russell Wilson and Tom Brady prove you don’t have to!” This one is a natural next point for us to hit on the list of obnoxious draft clichés. I wouldn’t begin to take anything away from Russell Wilson and Tom Brady. They’re phenomenal stories and have really propelled two NFL teams forward. But, to say the Browns shouldn’t “waste” a top pick on a quarterback because of guys like Brady and Wilson is positively silly.
Since 1999 the Browns have drafted three first-round quarterbacks. They took Tim Couch in 1999, traded back into the first round to select Brady Quinn in 2007, and finally Brandon Weeden in 2012. I know that’s a miserable drafting record in the first round, but Colt McCoy, Charlie Frye, Luke McCown, and Spergon Wynn didn’t fair much better as guys drafted after the first round. The idea that there are hard and fast rules about when to take a quarterback is a complete fallacy.
That’s not to say that Russell Wilson and Tom Brady aren’t proof of something. They are. They’re proof that you need a good quarterback. They’re proof that you can’t ever stop looking for a quarterback all over the place. The Patriots selected Tom Brady in 2000 with Drew Bledsoe already on the roster. Even after discovering that Tom Brady was worthwhile, the Pats have selected Rohan Davey in 2002, Jeff Kingsbury in 2003, Matt Cassell in 2005, Kevin O’Connell in 2008, Zac Robinson in 2010, and Ryan Mallett in 2011. You never stop looking. You draft them until you find one. Even after you find one, you keep drafting them.
The Browns ought to draft one in the first round if they like one there and then draft one late as well if they see a guy with any potential at all.
I’m sure there are a ton more that I didn’t cover, but these are the ones that immediately stuck out to me. It might seem like I’m doing a lot of attacking here, but a lot of these criticisms are introspective as well. When I’m listening to sports talk radio this time of year, I just can’t take a lot of the callers. They’re so confident and definitive about what they just know the Browns should do3. Over the years, I’ve constantly looked for ways to figure out easier rules for the Browns to get better via the draft. In the end I’ve learned a whole lot about what I don’t know. I’ve learned that there are no fast, easy rules. In a weird way the knowledge of what I don’t know has felt liberating.
- I can’t remember, but I might have even hopefully pointed it out a time or two. Ugh. [↩]
- This last statement, in a vacuum, is also potentially an overly simplistic cliché. To dismiss an All-World left tackle because his team has only won 4-5 games a year is wrong too. [↩]
- Same can be said for the wannabe GMs on Twitter. [↩]